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How Strong Are Cats Senses: Sense of Smell

Lillee Rhose has been a cat parent and writer her entire life. Her heart's passion is to share her love for and knowledge of cats.

How Is the Cats Sense of Smell Stronger than Humans?

Cat's sense of smell is fourteen times stronger than humans and have twice as many receptors in the olfactory epithelium (smell-sensitive receptors). They also have an additional olfactory organ called the vomeronasal organ, also known as Jacobson's Organ.

This organ is found in the roof of the mouth and contains receptor cells that connect to the region of the brain associated with sexual, feeding, and social behaviors. and the vomeronasal organ is involved in courtship and sexual behavior, as well as the ability for cats to recognize other cats and people.

Cats Sense of Smell -vs- Humans

"So, you say you can smell things better than me... right?" Kitty thinks... Buba you have no idea... now go get your diaper changed!

"So, you say you can smell things better than me... right?" Kitty thinks... Buba you have no idea... now go get your diaper changed!

3 Different Scent Receptors

There are three diverse kinds of scent receptors in mammals' noses! Let's look at how the receptors function and how cats smell things a lot better than human and K9's! One of the sensory cells is called V1R and it controls a mammal’s ability to separate one scent from the other.

The Number of V1R's in mammals:

  • Humans three
  • Dogs nine
  • Cats twenty-eight
  • Squirrel 110
  • Mouse 239
  • Platypus 283

V1R Diagram

V1R diagram

V1R diagram

Cats Trained for Search and Rescue

If cats were trained for search and rescue, they would be more successful than dogs because they have stronger sensor receptors to sniff out drugs, diseases, cadavers and finding lost people.

Is Such Training Possible?

Science hasn't figured out a way to get cats to do this and I'm not surprised at all, I mean... can you get your cat to do things she doesn't want to do? More information on this subject here: Are Cats Smarter Than Dogs? Successful training of a cat is achieved through food/reward programs and then again, the success rate is not fully scientifically known.

The Problem?

Cats do what they want, when they want and how they want and when time is of the essence, and they need to react quickly when they are needed for search and rescue missions. And all the cat wants to do is nap!

Cats Survival - The Importance Of Smell

"Among species with intermediately sized V1R repertoires, the elephant (∼30 intact V1Rs) appears to have a well-developed VNO (Johnson and Rasmussen 2002), as do the cat (∼30 intact V1Rs) (Salazar et al. 1996) and armadillo (∼60 intact V1Rs) (Carmanchahi et al. 1999), albeit different from armadillo species from which DNA sequences are available. We have not attempted any quantitative comparisons here due to the difficulty of comparing anatomical observations between different studies, especially when the species studied have a vastly differing body and relative brain sizes." Genome Research

"This V1R comprises one of three chemosensory receptor families expressed in the vomeronasal organ and contributes to pheromone detections"

— Genome Research

What A Catmazing World!

The amazing world of cats exists of scents and odors (smells), to sense out territory markings, hunting for food, looking for mates and to smell their enemies from miles away. And they use their sense of smell the moment they are born. Kittens are born blind and a kitten uses her senses to locate their mother's teat and it's from that moment on, they know their sense of smell will always lead them to food!

Do NOT Cross MY Territory Lines - Cats Smell You!

You need to turn around and walk away... I could smell you a mile away! Now go home!

You need to turn around and walk away... I could smell you a mile away! Now go home!

Male Cats are Territorial

Male cats mark their territory by spraying their urine (pheromones) on trees and brush to ward off the enemy's attempt at infiltrating their territory lines and thus they set boundary lines and travel to each section frequently, sniffing their markings to make sure they are still strong and if not, they respray it.

A Cats Line of Silent Communication

Pheromones: This is responsible for the cat's communications to one another. According to

"Feline facial pheromone is a pheromone used by cats to mark places, objects, and persons as familiar by rubbing their faces on surfaces. Several pheromones are currently known to exist as "feline facial pheromones" and are produced from glands located around the mouth, chin, forehead, and cheeks."

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Do Cats Have A Good Sense of Smell?

Ewww... that smell... Can't you smell that smell?

Ewww... that smell... Can't you smell that smell?

Pheromone Sensory at Work

Have you ever noticed that when your fur baby smells something good or bad, they will wrinkle their nose, her tongue will curl just a bit? Or you may have seen them smell something and go crazy on it and it's not sensory sensitive to your nose?

The Reason for Cats Reactions

Pheromones, V1R cells and Jacobson's Organ are at work and it's absolutely fascinating and incredible! So, now you know that cat sensory receptors are more powerful than humans and dogs and other mammals! They need a good sense of smell while out in the wild for their ability to survive and our domestic cat's sense of smell is especially important too.

Cats mark us in several ways showing us they accept us into their pride by a sniff, a hug, and a rub and that love is for life!

Here's Jacobson's Organ at Work...Video provided by purrrka YouTube channel


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2019 Lillee Rhose


Lillee Rhose (author) from Sparks, NV on December 22, 2019:

Peggy, sorry to hear about the loss of your cats, both my daughter's elderly cats passed away this year and they were heartbroken! It was so sad!

Yes, When I was researching this article, I was amazed by how differently the olfactory senses work in different animals. It is quite fascinating indeed!

Thank you for reading my article. :)

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 22, 2019:

It is fascinating how the olfactory senses differ between different animals. I miss our cats who are now gone to the great beyond. They marked us like their personal possessions when they were a part of our family.

Kemuel Emmanuel on November 05, 2019:

Sights, yes, Cats do have an acute sight. But smell, i have got to give the dog the first prize. My Dog Jimmy can smell the stench from my shoe even before i am actually home but my mom's cat, well i dont think it can.

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